The U.K. has lost 2,250 square kilometers of green space in the last six years. That’s almost 900 square miles, or half the size of Rhode Island, or–according to Wolfram Alpha–“the area of forest flattened by the asteroid explosion over Tunguska in 1908.”
In U.S. terms, that’s not too bad, but it’s 1% of of the area of the entire country, gone since 2006. The findings, published this week by the University of Leicester, are a part of the Copernicus Programme, which tracks environmental data across the European Union.
The map shows the changes. The parts in red used to be green, covered in forest, wetlands, and arable land. Where has this land gone? Housing. London’s fringe suburbs have expanded, and forests have been clear cut in the rest of the country to make way for development–100,000 hectares (250,000 acres) of trees gone to make way for building (although half that number will be replanted).
This, according to the Guardian, is a result of a 2012 reform to the UK’s planning regulations, which George Osborne, current secretary of state, described as “the biggest reduction of business red tape ever undertaken.” When the regulations were introduced, the word “sustainable” got a lot of play as politicians sought to hide legislation that mostly benefited developers.
For instance, at the time, government minister Greg Clark told BBC Radio 4’s Today program that “if it destroys a green belt, or the environment, it would not be sustainable and so should not go ahead.”
It seems the opposite has happened: Building of homes on England’s green belts has increased five times in the past five years, and doesn’t look like it’s slowing.
Not all of the deforestation is bad news though. Some of the lost forest was cleared to build wind turbines, mostly in Scotland, and according to the study, fewer golf courses are being built.
Housing is clearly needed in the U.K., but perhaps the British obsession with living in a house will have to change to living more European-style, in purpose-built apartment blocks. Or they can just not have forests.